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Category: Analisa Groble

Introduction

The Women’s Suffrage Movement and its Contribution to American Feminist Thought and The Women’s Liberation Movement

Feminism in the Twentieth Century

This museum exhibit will showcase the effects the Women’s Suffrage Movement had on society in the 1920s, and the lasting effects it had on the remainder of the twentieth century into the present. These effects will primarily focus on the perception of gender and the role of women in America. This topic translates into a fascinating museum exhibition because of the wealth of literature and visuals created during the time period. With sources spanning from the late 1800s to a whole century later into the 1900s, one can see an undeniable connection between the Women’s Suffrage Movement and later equal rights movements, such as the sexual liberation movements of the 1920s and the 1960s. The exhibit will be organized chronologically, starting with the earliest dated sources and ending with the most recent. Several diverse sources will be elaborated on, because different sources from different time periods will show how the Women’s Suffrage Movement helped shape attitudes of feminism and equality in the United States. It will be clear to see how the feminists movements of the early 1900s impacted later advancements in women’s rights.

1917 political cartoon in support of the women’s suffrage movement.

Beginning with the acknowledgement of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the exhibit will really start with the creation of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and feminist ideas in the late nineteenth century. Political unrest and female protest are featured in several sources from this time period so it will be necessary to explain the reasoning behind these behaviors and why they were essential to the beginnings of the suffrage movement. One of the questions answered by this section of the museum exhibit will be “Why did the Suffrage Movement start when it did?” Early Women’s Suffrage leaders felt disenfranchised by their lack of representation in government. Following the passing of the fifteenth amendment, women could see a more tangible future where one day they could secure the right to vote. The specification of only men having the right to vote sparked uproar for the women who now felt even more isolated from legislation.  Prominent figures such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony will have dedicated sections in this portion of the exhibit, highlighting their important roles in popularizing the movement.

All of this early feminist strife cumulates into the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. This will be one of the most heavily featured sources in the museum. It acts as the catalyst for every other point made in the museum exhibition. It’s role as the catalyst is because it was what gave women the initial right to vote, and the movement would inspire later feminists who wanted to organize in ways similar to the Suffragettes who proceeded them. With the amendment passing, the Women’s Suffrage Movement was a success, but not all was solved for women’s rights. From a governmental stand point, the right to vote had few immediate results in female representation. The focus of the exhibit shifts from the Women’s Suffrage Movement to broader feminist moments of the 1920s and into the great depression. Flappers, birth control, and female labor will all be topics that are touched on as the museum progresses. The specific emphasis on these subjects will be in comparison to and its relation back to the Women’s Suffrage Movement throughout the exhibit, however since other feminist movements are an imperative part of the topic, there will be a lengthy elaboration on each of these individual movements. After women gained the right to vote, there was still a present call for more agency in their day to day life. This Urgency predated the passing of the fifteenth amendment, and proved that it would not be going anywhere until more women stood up for themselves and demanded change. The sentiment that women felt like children in the present society, with little means to do anything independently, was largely held by women who felt oppressed by the pressure to present as “traditional”. Women expressing themselves as flappers was a display of defiance in the still very male-dominated country. They dressed the way they wanted to and used birth control to reclaim their sexuality. Gaining the right to vote was the first step in gaining personal freedoms.

As the United States progressed through the mid-twentieth century, women find themselves to become a more prevalent feature in the work force. Especially in the throes of World War II, there was an attitude of female empowerment as women had to work on the domestic front to aid the war effort, while men were off fighting overseas. Eventually World War II ends, and for the majority of the 1950s, women are expected to conform to their role as the devoted housewives and caretakers. Enter the 1960s, where second wave feminism is pushed front and center in the public eye. The Feminine Mystique is authored by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem becomes one of the most powerful voices for this feminist movement. It is in the 1960s and 70s that one can see the most pronounced evidence for the similarities between the Women’s Suffrage Movement and second wave feminism. After all, first wave feminism is another name for the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the surrounding feminist activity. Representation is once again a prevalent issue in the 1960s. Landmark moments such as Roe v. Wade, the failing of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the implementation of accessible birth control are all controversial decisions that rock the country in ways that mirror the events that occurred at the beginning of the century.

 

Beginning of Women’s Suffrage

The Women’s Suffrage Movement had officially begun after the Seneca Falls Convention which occurred in 1848. As the movement gained popularity and publicity, more strides were made in furthering the Suffragette agenda. At the 1896 Hearing of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Susan B. Anthony made her argument for women’s suffrage in front of congress. To summarize her initial statement, she mentions a proposal for an amendment that would give women the right to vote. She emphasizes how the wording of this proposed amendment would be worded similarly to wording is similar to the fifteenth amendment, where black men were given the right to vote, which had recently been passed. Susan B Anthony provides a chain of events that led up to the proposal, starting with her mentioning the 1866 petition that called for the removal of the word “male” from the fourteenth amendment. Anthony likens the treatment of women in America to the treatment of children, given the fact that they are governed so strictly with no representation. Other important leaders of the early Suffrage movement like Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the National Women’s Suffrage Organization and was an influential speaker encouraging women to join the movement. She and Lucretia Mott are credited with starting the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

The Suffrage Movement in progress

This map was published in February of 1919, just a few short months before the nineteenth amendment was passed in congress in July of that same year. It shows the popularity of the votes for women campaign throughout the country. It was originally published in The Suffragist, a notable newspaper of the time that can be attributed to spreading the ideas of women’s suffrage across the country and brought the country’s attention to the cause. This map conveys the popularity of the suffrage movement in the northern and western states of the country, but it specifically emphasizes the south’s hesitance to give women the right to vote. The map exemplifies Southern conservatism. The popular opinion in the grouping of states was that women did not need or particularly deserve the right to vote. This was a sentiment not only shared by conservative men, but also many conservative women in the states, who did not want their preferred roles as mothers and caretakers jeopardized by politics. Up North, the general attitude was far different. In Northern cities, liberal women actively campaigned for their cause. The Western states were the among the quickest to adopt the idea of women’s suffrage, as women had proven themselves to be competent workers in the sparsely populated territory. 

The Nineteenth Amendment

The ratification and passing of the Nineteenth Amendment was the ultimate goal of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. It was ratified on June 16, 1919, and officially certified on August 26, 1920. This was a historic landmark moment in the fight for women’s rights. The success of the amendment depended on the work of activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. The amendment famously states the following:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The significance of the Nineteenth Amendment is that it gave women a platform into the sphere of politics. Women were empowered to control their representation in government thanks to the acquisition of the right to vote. The success of the Women’s Suffrage Movement inspired feminists to dedicate themselves to further bettering their lives politically and socially. The League of Women Voters was formed after the passing of the amendment, and feminist activism grew even stronger in society, as women began to champion different causes that effected their daily lives. The Nineteenth Amendment was a crucial part of American women’s liberation and struggle for equality.

Opposition to the Women’s Suffrage Movement

In a true piece of suffragette opposition, Mary Dean Adams wrote in 1909 her counter-arguments to the suffrage movement. Mary Dean Adams was a member of the New York State Association and her words were representative of the association as a whole.  Her argument was  pro-feminist-but definitely anti-suffragette. In her essay she says that working women would be negatively affected by all women gaining the right to vote. It was widely believed by opposers of the amendment that voting would not improve the economic conditions of the working woman, who was often poor and over-worked.

“Those who are trying to get women’s suffrage are either ignorant of, or willfully shut their eyes to political conditions in congested centers of population. Those peaceful Western scenes of which we read so recently, where women drive to the polls accompanied by babies with dolls and teddy-bears, and children play at peek-a-boo in the booths, will hardly find a parallel in New York City.”

Adams used her platform to highlight the inequalities among women, specifically between women working in cities who did not have the time or the motivation to vote, versus non-working women in the West and the South who felt more inclined to vote.

After the Nineteenth Amendment

Jo Freeman, famed feminist and political scientist, referred to the era after the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment as the Doldrums for American feminism. This period, from roughly 1921 to the end of World War II, did not fit into the the period Suffrage Movement, nor did it fit into the time of the women’s liberation movement that began in the latter half of the century. After the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, there was an expectation among feminists that more needed to be done, that the right to vote was only the beginning of for female political representation. The National Women’s Party proposed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, decades before the ERA would gain national attention in the 1970s. The Equal Rights Amendment wanted an end to all legal discrimination based on sex. During this time, women were still restricted in many aspects of their lives, for instance, many states still had unjust property laws for Women. It was decided that the best course of action would be to campaign for an all encompassing Equal Rights Amendment that would be applied to the Constitution, rather than depending on every state to agree on Individual Equal Rights Acts.

Questions for Women’s Rights

After the Suffrage Movement’s successfully granted women the right to vote, many feminists’ shifted focus from the women’s political rights to other women’s rights issues of the time. Activists arose in the public sphere to champion women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Margret Sanger was an outspoken supporter of accessible birth control. Birth control can be looked at as a metaphor for a women’s independence from policing what they do with their bodies. The birth control revolution was just beginning in the 1920s, sparking controversy across the nation.  Women’s sexual freedom plays an important role throughout the history of women’s rights and feminist movements, as the legality of birth control and abortion would later become key issues in the second wave feminist movement. Birth control was not the only way women sought liberation from their traditional roles. The flapper look also gained popularity in the 1920s because of the flappers enticing, free way of dressing and expressing herself. Flappers wore shorter hemlines and smoked cigarettes, presenting themselves as an attractive opposite to the more restrictive and conservative norm that women had grown accustomed to.  The original suffrage movement and it’s success was an inspiration for disenfranchised women seeking further liberation in society to be active protesters for their causes. 

Women and World War II

Rosie The Riveter- By Four Vagabonds. 1943

Americas involvement in World War II spanned from 1941 to 1945. During these years, enlisted men fought oversees, and work on the domestic front was generally directed towards the war effort. Employment opportunities for women increased dramatically during this period. Six million women entered the workforce during World War II, with large quantities of women of color entering as well after reluctant white business owners eventually permitted the hiring of non-white women to work alongside white women. The role women had during World War II was imperative to America’s success. Rosie the Riveter is a popular symbol from the era that is used even today to represent hard working women in America. The increase of working women would lead to a shift in feminist attitudes in the country. In the coming decades, women’s labor rights would become a much talked about issue, but this would only be after an attempted return to “normalcy.”

A Rosie the Riveter poster

A Problem That Has No Name

When Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, she shined a light on “a problem that has no name.” Following World War II and the 1950s, more and more women were feeling oppressed by their role as housewives. This was especially jarring when looking at the 1950s as the era following the opportunistic 1940s for women in the work force. The inevitable return to women as housewives left women across America feeling disenfranchised. The Feminine Mystique encouraged women to recognize the pattern of female discrimination and maltreatment and actively protest the inequality. Friedan’s novel was a catalyst in launching the second wave feminism movement. The women who could identify with Friedan’s novel would come to identify as the feminists of the new era. Unlike first wave feminism, which concerned itself with women’s right to vote, second wave feminism would focus more on female independence in their sexuality and how they chose to express themselves free from oppressive norms of society. It would also focus largely on female liberation in the work place and in schools. 

Second Wave Feminism

Second Wave Feminism spanned from the early 60s to the late 70s. This movement for female liberation was comprised of activism for women’s sexual freedom, where women strived for accessible birth control and abortion. It was also comprised of women wanting equal treatment in the workplace and in education. The National Organization for Women was formed in 1966. This organization was founded to unite feminists and promote their agenda to the country. During this period historic strides were made for women’s rights. Many women chose to liberate themselves from their traditional roles as housewives. More women were earning degrees and entering the workforce, birth control became more accessible,  Title ix was passed in 1972, barring discrimination based on sex in higher education. Feminists had made historic gains during this era, but in the 1970s and into the 1980s, their attempts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment that had been at large since the 1920s, were unsuccessful. This was due to miscommunication and disagreement within several feminists groups and the efforts of opposers to the amendment, led by Phyllis Schlafly.

A vintage NOW button

Activism in the Women’s Liberation Movement

Activists like Gloria Steinem were among the leaders of the Women’s liberation movement during the period. She was able to rally like-minded feminist thinkers to band together in attempt to make a difference in the country. Rally’s were held across the nation, where women would protest discrimination in the government, their work, and their every day lives. Steinem cofounded the Nation Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. This was one of the many groups and organizations that came to exist during the second wave feminist movement. Other notable organizations were the groups for Women Against Pornography, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and Voters for Choice. 

Roe V. Wade

The Roe v. Wade decision was a monumental victory for women’s rights. In the 1960s and 1970s, America was extremely divided on its opinion of abortion, as it still is to this day. Conservatives and Religious types touted the act as pure sin and murder, while liberals and feminists claimed that a women’s right to choose was imperative to her autonomy as a human being. The decision ruled in favor of women’s right to choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. This decision polarized millions of Americans. Conservative citizens protested the outcome by vocalizing their dissatisfaction and protesting. This source represents a large part of second wave feminism and is easily related back to ideas of first wave feminism, with women wanting agency over their bodies and their representation in government. An all-male supreme court granted this landmark decision, which showed America just how impactful feminist action could be.  

The Equal Rights Amendment

The debate over the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment was a highly visible spectacle. Millions of Americans were divided by the efforts of second wave feminists and their call for female empowerment through equality, versus the efforts of Phyllis Schlafly and her Stop ERA movement. The short lived movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment panned throughout the early 1970s, and ultimately failed thanks to Schlafly’s campaigning against the cause.

The ERA movement was similar to the Women’s Suffrage Movement in that both movements were rooted in women’s roles in politics. The events of the movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment mirror the struggles of the suffragettes in getting the Nineteenth Amendment passed. Women who were against the ERA in 1970 were against it because they believed that they were already equal to men and did not see the need for any special treatment in the Constitution. These opponents of the ERA feared that the passing of the amendment would lead to women being drafted and not having the right to remain as housewives. The outcry against the ERA is evocative of the men and women who were anti women’s suffrage. People did not support the move for women’s suffrage in the 1920s because they believed that women both did not need the right to vote and having voting rights would lead to more harm than good.

Conclusion

The Women’s Suffrage Movement greatly impacted the lives of Women in America for generations after the fact. Without the Women’s Suffrage Movement to lay the foundation for later feminist movements, it is hard to say what progress women would have made in securing their rights and personal freedoms. Equality begins with representation, so it can be said that the strive for female equality began with the nineteenth amendment’s ratification. The right to vote was just the first step for women across America who were discontent with their treatment in society, but it would be a slow process, one that took decades for further change to ensue. From the 1910s to the 1970s, women gained the right to vote, won the rights to accessible birth controls and abortions, and made historic strides in bettering their positions in schools and in the workplace.

The theme of female liberation and empowerment, specifically, the relationship these topics have with the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the early twentieth century, is representative of a larger theme throughout United States history. The theme of the marginalized group rising up against oppressors to incite change is not an uncommon story in the course of the country’s history. Since America’s conception, minority groups have worked to, and have been working towards, equality. America was founded on the idea that all men are created equal, which has come to mean that regardless of race, sex, or religion, all people should have an equal chance to be successful in America. The feminist movements of the past and present all contribute to the greater history of the struggle for equality in the United States.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, and Susan B. Anthony Collection. Hearing of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/07039903/.

Suffrage Sentiment of Country Shown in Vote of Congress.” The Suffragist, vol. VII, no. 1, 1919, p. 14. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/88xYv1

Adams, Mary Dean. Wages and the Ballot. New York State Association Opposed to Women Suffrage, 1909. Nineteenth Century Collections Onlinehttp://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8Mnwm9.

Obenauer, Marie L. “Legislation for the Woman Wage-Earner.” The Suffragist, vol. VIII, no. 2, 1920. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/88xVi3.

Catt, Carrie Chapman, How It Feels to Be the Husband of a Suffragette. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1915. https://www.loc.gov/item/15015726/

U.S. Const. amend. XIX

Paul, Alice. 1924. “Is Blanket Amendment Best Method In Equal Rights Campaign?” Congressional Digest.  March, 1924. Accessed December 19, 2018. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=6a1c76e4-5665-4b7f-918a-c460e7285acb%40sessionmgr104

“Public Meeting and Rally in Favour Birth Control”. The Malthusian League, 1922. Nineteenth Century Collections.Accessed 18 Dec. 2018. Onlinehttp://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8PjS30.

O’Hara, Neal R. 1920 “Those Fluttering Flappers.” The Evening World. April 20. Accessed December 20, 2018. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030193/1920-04-20/ed-1/seq-21/#words=Flappers+Fluttering

Four Vagabonds. “Rosie the Riveter.” Originally released February 1942.

Friedan, Betty. 1963. The feminine mystique. New York: W.W. Norton & Company

Pathfinder Press, “Feminism Lives!” 1965. Photograph. Accessed November 14, 2018  https://www.loc.gov/item/201564841/

“Close-up of a NOW, the National Organization of Women, Button, 1970s. (Photo by Blank Archives/Getty Images).” 2018. Accessed December 18. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=imh&AN=imh598931&site=pov-live.

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

“Phyllis Schlaffly Interview on ERA | Today Show 1972.” Phyllis Schlaffly Eagles, 2:04. Published on March 21, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjrP0NFHKAE

Secondary Sources

Freeman, Jo. “Women: A Feminist Perspective.” Mountain View, California: Mayfield, 5th edition, 1995

Crusade For the Vote. “Women’s Suffrage Timeline (1840-1920). Accessed December 19, 2018. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/woman-suffrage-timeline-18401920

U.S Department of the Interior, National Park Service. “Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park.” NPS D-10 / August 2008. https://permanent.access.gpo.gov/gpo58939/RORI_GMPEA2008.pdf

Burkett, Elinor. “Women’s Movements.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed.  Accessed November 20, 2018 

GloriaStienem.com. “Biography.” Accessed December 20, 2018. http://www.gloriasteinem.com/about

 

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